The decline and fall of A&E's Biography

I used to love A&E’s Biography. They did a great job of presenting biographies of historical figures in an entertaining and informative way.

Nowadays, Biography seems only to tell the stories of entertainment figures. In fact, it appears to have become in large part a promotional arm of the movie industry. (New Ben Affleck movie coming out? Time for a presentation of The Ben Affleck Story on A&E’s Biography!)

So how, why, and when did this happen? Anyone else have any thoughts on the decline of this once-great show?

I feel the same way. I used to love Biography. Now it’s like watching E! television. Only less interesting.

It wasn’t nearly as bad as the episode of “Dinner for 5” on IFC I saw 2/14. The first two guests I recognized were Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck. Well, they belong together. Then I noticed the Irish guy (Farrell) having a credit flashed for “Daredevil”. Then the woman (Garner) too. Then Favreau talked about being in the movie. Then it finally hit me: Smith has a role in it too. They’re all in the same movie debuting that same day.

Ugh, ugh, ugh. Favreau needs a slapping.

And does it seem like they’ll use the same clips for different people?

Like someone spent an hour or so talking to, oh, Debbie Reynolds, and then Biography gets hold of that hour and you see bits of it in bios of Eddie Fisher, Carrie Fisher, Gene Kelly – sort of a six degrees thing almost.

It’s almost as bad as American Movie Classics? When did they start showing such un-classic movies, and when did they start having commercials? Didn’t it used to be commercial-free?

It’s been downhill since Peter Graves left, IMHO.

With the “clip comment”, often with television shows of this type, the people were interviewed once about this material (usually in fairly long interviews, too). Afterwards, the same interview footage is repeated over and over again. This comes in handy because, quite often, these people are reluctant to speak to the camera about their lives, and would rather have one big talk than a lot of smaller ones.

(Think of it this way. Ever notice that a lot of people never are interviewed? This is probably due to that unwillingness mentioned above.)

Just to add a little detail to Governor Quinn’s info about interviews for shows like this.I saw Angie Dickenson on a regular talk show mention that she had been taping interviews about friends and celebrities she has known for upcoming Biography episodes. I’m guessing that when these shows tape new interviews with people they often try to cover many different subjects at one time, probably working from a list of episodes in production. It’s probably easier and cheaper to interview a person once rather than trying to do seperate ones for different shows. Look at the “press junket” interviews that stars do for upcoming new releases, lots of short interviews packed into one day.

To me Biography lost it when they did a show on Monica Lewinsky and, IIRC, Ken Starr during the scandal. Neither person could fill out an entire show, so they combined them. Lewinsky rated 15 minutes (including commericals) - how fitting - and that felt padded. Starr got the rest of the show. When you’re doing Biographies about people who aren’t interesting enough to fill an entire show, you’ve lost it.

On the subject of recycled clips … it seems like every time on VH1’s “Behind The Music” when they get to a part where the featured artist relocates or starts a European tour or something, it’s the SAME DAMN PLANE that they show taking off. Well, OK, I think they have TWO plane clips that they shuffle between – one for when the artists leaves, and the other for when the artist comes back.